HP announced a strategic acquisition that effectively puts them in the bottle-making business.
You might think that to be an outrageously strange move, but in fact this is an exceptionally ingenious step that could supercharge their 3D printing activity.
First, there’s some background. HP, like most other major industrial 3D printer manufacturers, has been seeking high-potential applications that could not only make use of HP’s MJF technology, but leverage its potential to the fullest.
One of the areas HP focused upon was molded fiber packaging. This is the production of those rough cardboardy shapes holding the bits of your recent electronic purchase secure within its packaging. Countless products use this method for packaging, and it must change each time the product changes.
In other words, it’s a dynamic business requiring constant redesign. Normally this is accomplished with traditionally milled metal molds that can take considerable time and expense to produce. That leads to 3D printing as a possible solution.
The idea would be to 3D print the molds on which the fiber is cast, but apparently it’s not used in the industry because prints would not last more than 100 runs before requiring replacement.
Last September HP introduced a modification to their technology that addresses those needs. Their “HP Molded Fiber Advanced Tooling Solution” allows the production of effective molds at a rapid pace, shortening the production lifecycle of packaging.
Here is their video explaining the system:
Yesterday’s announcement further leveraged this strategy, as HP has acquired Choose Packaging.
Why on Earth would HP buy a packaging company? It’s because Choose Packaging apparently produces the only zero-plastic paper bottle on the planet. HP said:
“Choose’s patented technology provides an alternative to plastic bottles and can hold a wide variety of liquid products. Its novel, paper-based bottles are made with naturally occurring and non-toxic materials and pave the way for a new standard for bottling solutions globally.”
You now might realize the connection here: HP’s molded fiber solution is very likely applicable to Choose Packaging’s bottle production.
It’s likely HP’s technology could supercharge the paper bottle business and enable significant scaling.
Another factor is environmental: the world is about to come to terms with the astounding amount of plastics polluting the world, which degrade into microplastics that carry chemicals into the food cycle. This awareness can only increase in future years, and one of the prime switches will likely be away from the traditional plastic bottle to reusable and paper solutions. HP would be set to take full advantage of that future opportunity.
“With the integration of Choose into its Personalization & 3D Printing business, HP will focus on scaling its technology and customer footprint to expand the addressable market. There are more than 150 million tons of single-use plastics produced each year and HP intends to disrupt this market with fiber-based, 100% plastic-free packaging.”
It seems that HP is already working with Choose Packaging’s bottling companies to increase use of molded fiber products. Over time, use of paper bottles will inevitably increase and at some point become the de facto standard, with plastic bottles being seen as an unwelcome product.
The most interesting aspect of this move is that it puts HP in the position of end-user of the technology, rather than a technology provider. HP’s new acquisition will be producing paper bottles.
This is an effect I’ve seen several times recently, where 3D printer manufacturers are shifting from selling the equipment to operating the equipment. My suspicion is that industries are typically too slow to adopt new approaches, and it’s easier for a 3D printer manufacturer to instead run the business themselves.
I think we’re going to see more of this in the future.